State of the Church: S.C.’s NewSpring among nation’s largest, fastest-growing churches

A discussion of the state of the church in South Carolina would be incomplete without a look at NewSpring Church, based in Anderson. Not only is NewSpring the largest church in South Carolina, it is also one of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the United States.

NewSpring tops all Southern Baptist-affiliated churches among the 100 fastest-growing and 100 largest churches in the U.S., according to Outreach magazine lists drawn from LifeWay Research data. NewSpring also ranked as the second fastest-growing and the fourth largest church in the nation among all denominations, Outreach reported in September 2013.

Founded in Anderson in 1999 with 15 people meeting in a living room, NewSpring Church today has nine campuses located across the state — in Anderson, Boiling Springs, Charleston, Columbia, Florence, Greenville, Greenwood, Myrtle Beach and Spartanburg — and is developing plans to open another campus near Clemson.

The combined weekly average attendance for worship services in January 2014 was 32,500, and the church has a vision to reach 100,000 people across the state.

In 2012, NewSpring baptized 2,946 people — accounting for nearly one of every five baptisms by all churches affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, according to information published in the SCBC 2012 Annual.

The SCBC Annual includes NewSpring Church in its “Listing of Churches” and its statistical summary. NewSpring, which is not affiliated with a local Baptist association, forwarded $550 in budget gifts to the SCBC in 2012, according to the SCBC Annual.

Pastor Perry Noble told the Courier that NewSpring is “affiliated with” the SCBC, “but we are not married to them.”

“I think we follow theologically … with the Baptists way more than we do with any other denomination,” said Noble. “I’ve always enjoyed that aspect of the relationship.” Noble said Southern Baptists are the only denomination with which NewSpring affiliates.

In discussing what he described as NewSpring’s “very limited” contribution to the Cooperative Program, Noble said his church is nevertheless “very involved in missions.”

“I think the Cooperative Program, in what it was originally put together for, was very effective for that time period, and, in many cases, it’s still very effective today,” Noble said.

“I think one of the problems with missions in general is churches have said for too long that unless you do missions our way, you’re not doing missions,” he said. “So while we may not be giving a maximum amount to the Cooperative Program, I think our church is as missions-minded, and we’re seeing the Lord really do some great things all over the world.”

Noble said his church is “either directly or indirectly” supporting church plants on every continent except South America and Antarctica, and NewSpring has plans to help establish a church in South America “in the next year or two.”

In 2012, according to the church’s annual report (available for review at newspring.cc), NewSpring spent $2.2 million, or 18 percent, of its $25.8 million operating budget on missions.

One prominent staff member at NewSpring Church has a highly visible Southern Baptist connection. Clayton King, an evangelist who serves as a teaching pastor at NewSpring and as a professor of evangelism at Anderson University, was chosen by the SBC’s LifeWay Christian Resources to write the teaching materials for “The True Love Project,” the latest version of LifeWay’s popular “True Love Waits” curriculum. King has also been tapped to speak at the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s “Spring Youth Thing” April 18 at Carowinds.

NewSpring, which started as a house church in 1999, quickly outgrew its space and began meeting at the Sullivan Building at Anderson University in 2000. In 2001, the congregation moved to the university’s 1,100-seat Henderson Auditorium. In 2006, NewSpring built a new facility on Concord Road.

Noble, 42, was associate pastor at North Anderson Baptist Church from 1993-1999 before starting NewSpring Church.

In the Outreach magazine article detailing NewSpring’s ranking among the country’s largest churches, LifeWay Research president Ed Stetzer said looking at such numbers can be instructive.

“People seem to eagerly await the lists so they can learn from these churches about what God is doing to build His Kingdom across the United States,” Stetzer wrote. “On the other hand, there are those who complain about the lists. They seem to think this is a way of exalting ‘big churches’ in an effort to make them look better than the churches that are not on the list, when nothing could be further from the truth.

“These lists feed our hunger to learn, as we study the churches on them to learn more about the ways God is working,” Stetzer wrote.

Joining NewSpring among the 100 fastest-growing churches are Southern Baptist-affiliated First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, N.C., ranked 14th; Elevation Church in Matthews, N.C., ranked 15th; and theChurch.at in Broken Arrow, Okla., ranked 20th.

The Outreach magazine article noted that top-ranked churches tended to have multiple campuses. Among the 100 largest, only 12 have a single campus.

— With reporting from Baptist Press.